Friday, November 4, 2022

Othuke Umukoro

Each year, the Writing University conducts interviews with writers while they are in Iowa City participating in the various writing programs on campus. We sit down with authors to ask about their work, their process and their descriptions of home. Today we are talking with Othuke Umukoro, poet & playwright at the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

1. Hello Othuke! Can you tell us a little bit about what brought you to the University of Iowa?

Last year I applied to six creative writing programs in the US and got into four including the MFA program at Brown University. Some of my favourite writers like 'Gbenga Adeoba and Romeo Oriogun who a few weeks ago won the NLNG Prize for Literature graduated from the Iowa Writers Workshop. As you know Iowa occupies a rich expanse in the creative writing ecosystem. The literary talent here is not only outstanding but also challenges and pushes you to be a better writer. These, among other reasons, are why I am here for graduate school. My experience so far as a Poetry MFA candidate at the Writers' Workshop has been wonderful. I hear winter here is unforgiving and I am still mentally preparing for it.

2. What is the inspiration for your work right now?

My work generally centres on the black experience, familial memories, hope, grief, nature and nation. The transatlantic slave trade is the major inspiration for my work at the moment. Hollywood in my opinion kind of makes you think that the slave story started on the field. I mean in the very beginning there is the avalanche of human greed, the 300+ years of plundering of Africa, and the inexpressible horrors of the Middle Passage. My poetry at the moment is exploring these silences, these roots growing in the dark. 

3. Do you have a daily writing routine?

Yes. I do most of my writing at night—my muse comes most alive while people are sleeping. I set about five hours for this working my way through random prompts. Most of these drafts turn out rough and crude but they give me something to edit in the future. When I am stuck I go to YouTube and watch videos of honey badgers taking on giant cobras. I don't like coffee. I eat a lot of grapes while writing. 

4. What are you reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?

I am currently reading for both pleasure and research. I am reading Billy Collins's collection The Art of Drowning for its lush language, beauty and power. I am also reading Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric for its intellectual and visceral multitudes, incandescent lyricism, and what to put in place when writing about other people. Lastly, I am reading Hugh Thomas's The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade: 1440-1870. These are books I would gladly recommend to anyone reading this interview.

5. Tell us about where you are from - what are some favorite details you would like to share about your home?

I come from Olomoro, a small town in Delta State, Nigeria. Most of the people in this town of my childhood are into farming and fishing. The people—kind, generous and welcoming—are what make this town home. There is a palpable communal spirit that thrives in this town. The food, if you ever find yourself there please go for a plate of Banga soup with eba or starch, is delectable! The rainforests that surround this small town carry timeless histories. Growing up I spent countless, unforgettable hours inside the luxuriant rooms of these rainforests.


Othuke Umukoro, poet & playwright, won the 2021 Brunel International African Poetry Prize. He believes Denzel Washington is the greatest actor of all time & tweets @Othuke__Umukoro